On February 27th, I attended One World Media’s Solutions Journalism workshop at Channel 4, on behalf of GlobalGirl Media UK.
‘Solutions journalism’ is an approach to news which acknowledges that there are problems in the world, but also provides solutions. Three speakers were present: Jodie Jackson, author of You Are What You Read, a book which examines the psychological impact of reading the news; Mark Rice-Oxley, a journalist from the Guardian, and Estelle Doyle, a senior journalist for BBC News and Current Affairs.
One phrase which Jodie said was imprinted on my brain throughout the workshop: “If it bleeds, it leads,” to demonstrate that the news continually gives more coverage to negative and fear-breeding articles. For example, the number of people infected with coronavirus (Covid-19) is rising globally each day. The repetitive reporting on this event multiple times a day, every day of the week, can be detrimental to the public, who continually live in fear of their fellow members of society and their surroundings.
The psychological impact of the news has not gone unnoticed. A clip from the series The Secret Life of 6 year olds, a show which follows the lives of six-year-olds at a day nursery, was shown in Jodie’s presentation. A group of children pretended to be news anchors and were reporting on issues such as death and terrorism, highlighting the impact that the news has on children as young as six. This negativity has resulted in increased levels of anxiety, pessimism, depression and helplessness amongst the majority of news watchers, as well as desensitivity to violence.
Jodie cited availability theory: a theory which demonstrates that there is an overrepresentation of problems and underrepresentation of solutions. The media needs to change this! Statistically, readers spend an average of six minutes on solutions journalism compared to two minutes on other stories, so there is a large space for solutions journalism to flourish.
Mark spoke about the Upside, the positive news section of the Guardian. Mark started off his presentation with a series of graphs without titles and axis labels, prompting the audience to guess what they were showing. One graph illustrated that poverty is decreasing globally, but it is a story that we do not really hear much about. What makes this story any less newsworthy than one on terrorism? I knew the answer. “If it bleeds, it leads,” and a story on the reduction of poverty does not bleed.
The Upside tries to make something extraordinary from the ordinary. It features stories on subjects such as the MeToo movement in Mongolia, and a local man who helps to fix roads in India. It makes viewers an active part of the stories they watch. They feel empowered; no longer powerless.
With this type of journalism, however, comes new problems, such as the need for more data journalists. However, there has been a rise in initiatives that link journalism with data, such as the Google News Initiative, which is promising for the future of solutions journalism.
Mark reiterated the importance of the “element of surprise” in winning over readers in the field of journalism as a whole, something which can help solutions journalism to make a statement.
Estelle spoke about how the BBC are injecting the element of surprise in their programmes. She has been working on a new endeavour: Crossing Divides, a programme that seeks to bring together two polar opposites to create a mutual respect for what is different to how we are and what we believe.
The show has a public purpose: to create social cohesion and create solutions from conflict and opposition.
Additionally, Estelle noted that the BBC are failing to win over young audiences, who crave real people’s stories, the exact stories that Crossing Divides focus on.
On the Move was a previous initiative conducted by the BBC. They created a “chatty carriage” to spark conversations on public transport, shifting solutions journalism from a screen into the real world.
Solutions journalism is an upcoming field, but one which poses several problems. There are locations in which the field is not appropriate, such as China due to the potential for journalism to be exploited as a propaganda tool. Furthermore, “what bleeds leads” has been a central part of journalism, one which may take several years to change.
However, every problem has a solution. The high level of interest amongst the audience for this field was encouraging to see; an audience filled with potential solutions journalists. America is leading the way in this field, demonstrating that solutions journalism will continue to reach more people over time and pave its way into the mainstream media.